Hippocampal Place Cells Encode Local Surface-Texture Boundaries

Chia Hsuan Wang, Joseph D. Monaco, James J. Knierim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The cognitive map is often assumed to be a Euclidean map that isometrically represents the real world (i.e., the Euclidean distance between any two locations in the physical world should be preserved on the cognitive map). However, accumulating evidence suggests that environmental boundaries can distort the mental representations of physical space. For example, the distance between two locations can be remembered as longer than the true physical distance if the locations are separated by a boundary. While this overestimation is observed under different experimental conditions, even when the boundary is formed by flat surface cues, its physiological basis is not well understood. We examined the neural representation of flat surface cue boundaries, and of the space segregated by these boundaries, by recording place cell activity from CA1 and CA3 while rats foraged on a circular track or square platforms with inhomogeneous surface textures. About 40% of the place field edges concentrated near the boundaries on the circular track (significantly above the chance level 33%). Similarly, place field edges were more prevalent near boundaries on the platforms than expected by chance. In both one- and two-dimensional environments, the population vectors of place cell activity changed more abruptly with distance between locations that crossed cue boundaries than between locations within a bounded region. These results show that the locations of surface boundaries were evident as enhanced decorrelations of the neural representations of locations to either side of the boundaries. This enhancement might underlie the cognitive phenomenon of overestimation of distances across boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1397-1409.e7
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 20 2020


  • CA1
  • CA3
  • boundaries
  • hippocampus
  • place fields
  • single units
  • spatial cognition
  • spatial segmentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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